Many justify using certain contemporary worship practices by arguing that they enhance the Church’s effectiveness in evangelizing people. Ezekiel 33 reveals why such reasoning is dangerously flawed.
The Lord’s Exposé of Dangerously Flawed Worship
Addressing Ezekiel as “son of man,” the Lord revealed to him the true state of many who were flocking to hear his ministry of the Word:
Eze 33:30 Also, thou son of man, the children of thy people still are talking against thee by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and speak one to another, every one to his brother, saying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the LORD.
31 And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.
Even as these people were exhorting one another to come and hear the word of God through Ezekiel, their hearts were horrifically iniquitous. They were not coming to worship the Lord with a true heart for hearing from Him and doing what He says; instead, they loved enjoying what was to them a sensuous experience of hearing the faithful ministry of a true man of God:
Eze 33:32 And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovelya song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not.
This divine revelation shows that their worship was seriously flawed, and the Lord warned Ezekiel that it was dangerously so:
Eze 33:33 And when this cometh to pass, (lo, it will come,) then shall they know that a prophet hath been among them.
When God’s judgment would come upon them for their hearing but not doing what He says, they would know the truthfulness of the message and the messenger that they had disregarded because their hearts were wrongly oriented toward enjoying the titillating experience of hearing him preach the word of God to them.
How Much Contemporary Worship Is Similarly Dangerously Flawed
The Lord’s exposé of their dangerously flawed worship explicitly likened what Ezekiel was to them to their hearing a skilled instrumentalist with a beautiful voice who sings a very lovely but sensual song to them (Ezek. 33:32). In both cases, they fail to profit from the verbal message delivered to them because of the sensual orientation of their hearts.
This divine comparison shows that God is very well aware of the immense power that sensual music can have to influence people in ways that do not enhance the persuasiveness of the message that is communicated verbally to them as part of that music. Several commentators concur with this interpretation:
The news of Jerusalem’s fall appears to have given Ezekiel’s message a certain popularity and topicality. He is now the subject of conversation in the cities and the doorways (33:30). To use a contemporary analogy, he is the toast of the talk shows. But the interest is superficial: The people listen to his words but do not put them into practice, regarding them as an interesting phenomenon rather than a life-changing reality. His fame is like that of a pop star, whose declarations on spiritual matters may arouse curiosity but are scarcely accorded authoritative status. People may also have been humming along to his tune, but they are paying no attention to the true meaning of the lyrics.
Time, however, will prove the power of the word of the Lord through Ezekiel: “When all this comes true—and it surely will—then they will know that a prophet has been among them” (33:33). In that day, just as all will know experientially the power of the Lord, so they will also be forced to recognize the authenticity of the Lord’s prophet.” —Iain M. Duguid, NIVAC: Ezekiel, 385-86.
“Your fellow nationals, human one, who are talking about you in the alleys and doorways, invite each other to come and hear what message Yahweh has sent. They come to you in crowds and sit down in front of you. They listen to your messages without acting on them. To them you are just like a fine vocalist, some professional musician who sings erotic songs. They listen to your messages without acting on them. When it finally happens—and happen it will—then they will realize that they have had a prophet among them.”—Leslie C. Allen, Translation of Ezekiel 33:30-33 in WBC: Ezekiel 20-48, Vol. 29, 149.
Ezekiel, long regarded with suspicion and distaste for his defeatism and scolding (cf. 2:6; 3:9), has been vindicated as a true prophet. In spirit he now seems to stand shoulder to shoulder with his compatriots in exile. Ezekiel’s popularity knows no bounds, as the exiles crowd into his home (cf. 8:1; 14:1; 20:1) to hear what this sensational prophet will say next. Unfortunately, it was the popularity of an entertainer, a pop star, that Ezekiel enjoyed, and he was being taken no more seriously than before. His hearers functioned as a concert audience rather than a congregation.
The extended simile of the singer refers . . . to the fact that his words were so welcome that they were music in the ears of those who thronged to hear them. —Allen, 153-154.
At best Ezekiel is like a singer of ‘a sensual song’ (literally, ‘song of loves’), gifted with a pleasant voice and with the ability to handle an instrument ‘well‘. Nowadays, pop singers tend to celebrate one theme only, and normally in a debased manner. It seems that his hearers estimated Ezekiel in this fashion, switching off when he has hard things to say and treating him as no more than entertainment. When the performance was over, and when their ears had been tickled pleasurably, they would disperse and return to normal business. The picture is vivid, and we can readily understand it: although music and lyrics are core entertainment for the masses, they are never taken seriously, the top tune and its singer being soon forgotten because they are only a temporary diversion. Ezekiel was a passing voice that men of sense would not allow to affect their lives (33:32).
How embarrassing for the prophet! Yet he is assured by Yahweh that his warnings cannot be in vain, for which reason Ezekiel must persist in his ministry. One day ‘it’ will come, and then men will appreciate fully that he was a prophet (33:33; cf. 2:5).” —Peter Naylor, EP Study Commentary, Ezekiel, 515.
The Israelites in exile and the remnant in Palestine had looked on Ezekiel’s ministry in mockery. They would gossip that they should go and hear God’s word (v.30). Yet when they came to Ezekiel, or heard his message, they would listen; but they would not act in accord with his warnings (v.31). They orally expressed devotion, but their hearts were greedy for material gain. They were “playing games” with God. To them Ezekiel was no more than a good entertainer. He was amusing to listen to and to watch, with all his symbolic acts and prophecies. But just as an entertainer demands no response, so they did not sense a need to respond to Ezekiel’s messages (v.32; cf. 2 Tim. 4:3). However, as Ezekiel’s prophecies became reality—and such had already begun in the Fall of Jerusalem—then Israel would realize that a true prophet had been among them (v.33). Oh the importance of listening to men of God and acting on God’s word that they proclaim! —Ralph H. Alexander, EBC, Ezekiel, 6:910-11
Choosing to evangelize people in our day with the use of music that has a widespread popular sensuous and sensual appeal puts those people at great risk of experiencing the same tragic dynamic that Ezekiel’s hearers experienced. When people are focused on their love of a popular musical style used to communicate God’s truth, their hearts will be distracted from attending properly to that truth.
Popular Musical Styles Are Not Proper Vehicles for God’s Truth
Contrary to what many believe today, using sensual musical styles that are very popular (such as the styles used in “rock-influenced” CCM) as vehicles for God’s truth hinders lost people from receiving His truth properly. Although God can and at times does graciously choose to work in some hearts in spite of the negative effects experienced by the hearers of such music, God’s people should learn from Ezekiel 33:30-33 that it is wrong for us to put such obstacles in their way.
Let us beware dangerously flawed reasoning used to justify using contemporary worship to evangelize people!
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